A hot potato: Not for the first time, certain tech terms are being called outdated and racist. As Black Lives Matter protests take place around the world, many in the industry want words such as blacklist, whitelist, master, and slave changed.
The word blacklist, which is used to describe a list containing banned, disallowed, or undesirable elements such as passwords, spam emails, websites, applications, etc. has been under scrutiny for years. Some find the term problematic, especially as whitelist describes everything that is allowed, or good.
White hat and black hat, which refer to an ethical hacker and one who hacks for personal gain, respectively, have also faced calls to be replaced with “ethical” and “unethical.”
I refuse to use “whitelist”/“blacklist” or “master”/“slave” terminology for computers. Join me. Words matter.— Leah Culver (@leahculver) June 6, 2020
“Master” and “slave” have been familiar terms among computer enthusiasts for decades. They’re also part of the terminology in the world of database storage, music recording, software, vehicles, trains, and more. As note by CNET, Python developers dropped the words in 2018, while the team behind Drupal replaced them with “primary/replica” in 2014. In 2013, LA County asked suppliers and contractors to stop using "master" and "slave" on computer equipment.
An academic study from the University of Limerick claimed terms such as blacklist, whitelist, and black sheep do “not merely reflect a racist culture, but also serves to legitimise and perpetuate it.”
The death of George Floyd and the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests have once again put these terms under the spotlight. Some believe they are racially insensitive and should be replaced, while others say doing so would make no difference, and other actions, such as donating to a cause, would have a more positive effect.